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Economic development funding unchanged

LAWTON, Okla._ Lawton city officials agree more attention needs to be placed on economic development, but a vote at city hall Tuesday night won't devote more taxpayer dollars toward bringing new jobs to town.

Economic development is funded through the city's hotel/motel tax. The Lawton-Fort Sill Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) gets a portion of the five percent tax tacked on to all hotel and motel rooms across the city.

After months of mulling over a plan on how to best spend the hotel/motel tax money, the council voted on a final plan Tuesday that’s almost identical to the plan they've been operating under for many years. It’s a plan that gives the Chamber of Commerce 70 percent of the hotel/motel tax money, to which they decide how much money to dish out to the LEDC.

Barry Albrecht, president of the LEDC, believes his organization’s slice of the pie, which last year was roughly $250,000, should be bigger in order to move the city into the future.

“(There are) communities around Oklahoma that are a lot smaller than ours that have higher levels of budget toward economic development, and they're becoming very successful,” says Albrecht.

He believes Lawton should be allocating closer to $1 million a year toward attracting new businesses to town. He says his job is to create more jobs, and it will take more money to make it happen. Albrecht is especially concerned with the ongoing threat of defense cutbacks with rumors circulating that Fort Sill could lose thousands of both military and civilian jobs by 2016.

Councilman Keith Jackson says the hotel/motel tax should bring in roughly $1.1 million in fiscal year 2015. If it brings in more money, the council is hoping to build up a “war chest fund” which will also be directed toward economic development. The council will have the power to decide how to best spend the money that accumulates in that fund.

“By the end of the year we should reach some $500,000 dollars in that fund and we are hoping to develop it even more than that,” says Jackson, who says there is a glaring need to focus more attention on economic development.

The additional money Jackson speaks of is not guaranteed money, however, a number of city officials have said they expect FY2015 will be a good year for hotel tax money, in part because of the government contractors in town working with the unaccompanied minors being housed at Fort Sill.


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